By Jamie Bullins

9 to 5, Lofte Community Theatre, Saturday, July 15, 2023, 7:00 pm. 

There may not be a lot going on in Manley, NE. It’s not a hopping metropolis most likely. Now, this is actually only like the third time I’ve ever set foot in Manley, so, I don’t want to judge it too harshly, because every time I’ve been to Manley, it was a super pleasant experience. So, just because it’s small and quiet, it doesn’t mean there’s not a gem of a theatre there! Even though I’ve been before, I’m still kind of surprised to find such an amazing facility to be on a gravel road in small town Nebraska. And, man, that snack bar is off the chain. Also, I don’t remember her name, but even the greeter at the door established a welcoming, pleasant atmosphere right off the bat.  All that said, the show was good, too! 

Of course, 9 to 5, is based on the 1980 film with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Dabney Coleman. Being basically a child of the 80’s, it’s a movie I have seen more times than I can count. So, I get a little verklempt looking back on watching it the chunky television my parent’s living room. The one without the remote control that you had to get up to change the channel, or even the volume. How archaic. So, as an audience member, I’m already in a state of pleasant, comforting, nostalgia when I walk in the door. For me personally it brings back memories of when I met Dolly Parton in person in 1976, when I was 8 years old. That’s a story you’ll have to ask me about. So, always a fan, this musical adaptation features songs she contributed to the project and even a surprise cameo (sort of), so, I’m up for it at any time. 

Now that same nostalgia sets the premise for the musical in a not-so-great light as well that the 80’s unfortunately drag along with it. So, we know that women have never received the respect that they deserve. Especially in the workplace. The ‘boys club’ that’s mentioned in the musical is still an unfortunate reality, but hopefully we’ve grown some in the last 40 years or so. Hopefully? And the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” that is Franklin Hart, who should be as extinct as the stegosaurus, is surely a disgusting blight on the face of the business world.  Hence the #MeToo from not that long ago. Ick. So, seeing him get his is even more satisfying. 

Now, the folks who bring us this story in the barn in Manley. It’s a tight ensemble, with fine voices, snazzy dance numbers, and some super endearing characters. The choreography was energetic and fun, thanks to Becca Schmucker, offering great pizzazz to the musical numbers, without overpowering the songs. And there’s one young dancer that brings some strong gymnastic chops to the table. Just wow. Our leading ladies, Violet (Wendy Allen), Doralee (Kody Horrocks), and Judy (Anna Rebecca Felber) gel so well together. It’s hard to recreate that chemistry for those characters from the film, but, these guys got it. They lead us through the story with charm and well fleshed out (sorry Doralee) characters, so, we know we’re in good hands from the get-go. We cannot forget the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” that is Franklin Hart (Wade Mumford). He was so slimy and gross (which he has to be for the story to work) that people moaned audibly, rather than applauded, at the end of his number “Here for You”. It was an uncomfortable atmosphere that such an unscrupulous stereotypical character evokes here in 2023. Now, there were other characters who definitely stand out. Thank you, Roz (Mary Pennisi), for the heartfelt commitment to your love for Hart. “Heart to Hart” was one of the most memorable numbers from the evening.  Joe (Aaron Spracklin) brought this boyish sincerity to the role that certainly won the audience over right away. It was great to see Margaret’s (Natalie McGovern) full journey as well, “atta girl” Margaret. We all need a good “atta girl” now and then, am I right? 

The staging was fluid and fast, even with the challenges that today’s musicals (especially those based on films)  pose with multiple locations and special scenic and prop needs. I am curious who was in the Xerox machine chucking out those papers… 

And thank you music director Benjiman Pettiford and director Kevin Colbert for choosing to provide us with live accompaniment for the evening. It is my belief that tracks have stolen the soul from the musical theatre. I do understand the need for them and the instances where using them cannot be helped. Oh,  but live music changes the entire experience. 

Thank you Lofte Community Theatre for providing me with the opportunity to share in your opening night performance of 9 to 5. I wasn’t the only one in the audience having a good time. That’s one of the most exciting things about being in the theatre with the rest of the theatre-goers. We’re all there at the same time, experiencing it together. Have I said this before? Theatre in Nebraska has heart. Thank you, Lofte Community Theatre, keep telling your stories.

If you go: You can catch 9 to 5 July 16, 21-23, 27-30, Curtain: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 7:00 pm, Sunday 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased online.  

Jamie Bullins is on the faculty in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film at UNL, since the fall of 2017. He is an Educator, Scenographer, Director, and Playwright and has been at it for 30 years now. 

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